Are you enabling your business users? Is your team providing business owners the functionality they need to perform business-as-usual operations? Unfortunately, a lot of times, we aren’t.
Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO.
Today we’re going to get into the specifics of how to enable those business teams. In my prior article, The disruptive idea of low-code platforms, we covered the benefits of low-code, no-code, and full-code platforms. We also expanded on why no-code solutions are powerful for business users.
Today we’ll explore Smartsheet, a no-code platform, and dig into its advanced functionality. This complex functionality holds enormous potential to empower your business users. I’m also going to introduce you to the more complex integration features of Smartsheet that allow you to educate your business users without enabling shadow IT.
Let’s begin with advanced notifications. There are a lot of excellent use cases to be made for utilizing notifications within Smartsheet.
Notifications can be triggered based on events or even by entering specific pieces of data into a sheet. For example, if a sheet’s value is updated, notifications can be automatically generated. Here are a few examples of how notifications can be used in Smartsheet:
- The completion of development can trigger a notification to QA to begin testing.
- The failure of an issue can trigger a notification for the development team to retest the issue.
- Adding a record to the business issues list can trigger notification to the business owner.
- The completion of a release can trigger notification to the leadership of the accomplishment.
- Entering value realized can be summarized by a value meter to capture value realized across the department.
- The entry of a new request can trigger the start of a triage process.
- Users interested in sensitive issues can be added to watch lists to monitor critical pieces of work.
There are tons of ways to add alerts and notifications into existing Smartsheet functionality by designing new workflows.
For example, emails could be triggered to be sent if a test script failed. The QA tester could be immediately notified that a UAT tester failed a test case. This workflow reduces cycle-time delays, a common occurrence in ineffective business lifecycles. The immediate notification encourages resources to be involved more quickly instead of waiting for a status update that might come hours or even days later.
There are also powerful analytics and built-in visualizations that can be provided from the data nested in sheets and reports.
By leveraging sheets and reports and rolling the summary data into dashboards, users can access near-real-time data linked to insights. For example, if the team sets up sheets to capture business issues and has tagged them by category, dashboards can ingest this information and build dynamic charts and graphs based on categorization of the data.
Additionally, it’s possible to generate meeting minutes automatically using Ogilvy. The report builder also enables dynamic and customized reporting.
Workflow and process automation
Next, we have workflows. There are many repeatable business activities that we consider business-as-usual. These processes are often repeatable and consume large amounts of our business users’ time to aggregate data, and it takes hours for business owners to review the summarized information.
Many of these processes are manual and, frankly, inefficient. While these processes are generally technically repeatable, repeating the activity requires a significant amount of institutional knowledge.
To make these processes more efficient, we can introduce automation in the form of dynamic workflows. There are several benefits of automating processes with workflows:
- More efficient execution of business processes
- Reduction in repetitive tasks
- Increased customer engagement
- Minimized errors
How do you onboard or off-board staff? Your team might have a checklist. Many teams have even documented some parts of the process on Confluence or SharePoint. However, it’s unlikely that it’s fully documented.
These processes are primarily manual and require significant effort to hand-hold resources through the onboarding and off-boarding processes. What if the process was automated? Who from your team would be freed up to work on more value-added activities?
From service-ticket oversight to managing change controls, Smartsheet workflows can help streamline work and make processes repeatable and less prone to omitting critical steps.
There are loads of great uses for process automation that leverage the capabilities of Smartsheet. Here are a few areas in which we can introduce automation into business activities:
- Collecting invoices and sending them to the appropriate processors
- Monitoring the payment status of each account
- Maintaining a general ledger
- Submitting requests for service
- Setting up new accounts
- Issuing change requests
RPA flow connects Smartsheet data in UiPath Studio
Smartsheet also has integration with more complex pieces of functionality including robotic process automation (RPA).
UiPath Studio has tightly coupled its core capabilities for automation integration. RPA enables low-code application platforms (LCAPs) to engage individuals who aren’t developers and otherwise wouldn’t help build out the functionality. The new paradigm of low-code opens access for employees (non-developers) to build capabilities that previously would only have been accessible to hard-core developers. Moreover, the simplistic drag-and-drop type interfaces allow non-developers to create powerful capabilities for companies. Imagine if your business users could solve 30% of their challenges independently, allowing developers to focus on building more strategic value-added organizational capabilities?
While the integration of RPA can be on the complex side, once integration is achieved, the upside is enormous. Here are some benefits of using agents to automate processes leveraging Smartsheet functionality:
- UiPath, an RPA platform, offers an easy-to-use platform
- RPA enables non-developers to create process automation
- Building an RPA program is just like drawing a diagram
- With the CData ODBC Driver for Smartsheet, users can embed Smartsheet data into their workflow
- Dynamically configure connections
- Connect RPA utilities to Smartsheet data for automation
- Create, run, and execute RPA functions (queries)
Future areas to explore
Lastly, I want to introduce three features that are more complicated and will require additional research but are great to add to your tool kit!
The first is Data Uploader. This utility helps centralize disparate data and integrate complicated data sets. Providing visibility requires gaining access to multiple systems to drive collaboration. Enabling efficient work execution is where Data Uploader shines.
The second is DataMesh. This utility provides more advanced lookups across sheets and integrates multi-sets of data. When multiple data sets are being combined, it’s essential to have data consistency. DataMesh helps identify and remove duplicates and supports the creation of links between sheets.
This functionality can be further expanded by creating links based on specific lookup values. If you’ve ever tried to replace values or swap values in blank fields, DataMesh will be a time saver. For example, suppose you have a user’s email address in one sheet and want that data displayed in another report. DataMesh can help populate that information into other sheets while maintaining a single source of truth over the data set.
Third, Control Center is a nice add-on to the core functionality of Smartsheet. This is a portfolio- and project-management solution that offers data consistency with better visibility across projects at scale.
A product you might already own
You might be thinking Smartsheet has potential, but what does it cost? Typically, organizations purchase enterprise licenses that cover their entire company. As a bonus, if your company purchases an enterprise license, the Smartsheet Product Certification is FREE for all enterprise users. This is a great offering, and many business users don’t even know they have free access they can leverage. It’s worth exploring if your company already has an enterprise license, because citizen developers may be interested in being product certified on Smartsheet.
Looking toward the week ahead, ask yourself, “How can I be a better business partner?” Begin by introducing technologies to automate existing manual business processes. Ask the questions others aren’t asking. Stop asking for help and start finding solutions.
If you found this article helpful, that’s great! Also, check out my books, Think Lead Disrupt and Leading with Value. They were published in early 2021 and are available on Amazon and at http://www.datsciencecio.com/shop for author-signed copies!
Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO. Have a great day!